It was never going to be long before the Tories noticed NuLabour were trying to outflank them on law & order from the right and decided to do something about it. The ConDems have decided to ‘anonymise’ DNA samples the authorities hold of people who have been arrested but never convicted of a crime:
One of its key features of the Protection of Freedoms Bill, we were assured by Nick Clegg in January, would be an end to the “indefinite storage of innocent people’s DNA”.
That seemed to be an unambiguous promise, and a welcome one. Unfortunately, as The Daily Telegraph reveals today, the Government has decided not to keep this promise, bringing the number of policy U-turns to at least 14.
Instead of clearly and simply wiping out the DNA of more than one million people who have been arrested but not convicted, the authorities will retain the samples, but in an “anonymised” state.
This means that the names and other identifying features will be removed from the police database but kept elsewhere, enabling agencies with the right expertise to join the pieces of data together again and identify the DNA.
In the clumsy but revealing phrase of James Brokenshire, a Home Office minister, the genetic information will “be considered to have been deleted”.
Considered by whom? Certainly not by civil liberties groups, which have accused the Government of betraying an explicit commitment in the Coalition Agreement and ignoring a judgment of the Court of Human Rights.
Back we trot to the database state, which would always reform under different guises, with different agendas in play. The motive here seems to be straightforward party political – splitting Ed Miliband from his authoritarian underlings, whilst snubbing the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to please the right wing of the Tories. We deserve better politics than this, but there seem to be very few politicians in the British parliament who have any interest whatsoever with the rule of law. You’d think with the influence of Murdoch waning that you’d have one or two MPs shrieking with outrage at the injustice of it, no longer that worried about a NOTW campaign against them, but no – the cowardice lives on.
It’s about time, isn’t it? Cameron doesn’t like it but he’s going to allow at least some prisoners to vote:
Prisoners are to get the right to vote as the government is poised to throw in the towel in a long-running legal tussle with the European court of human rights, it emerged today.
It is understood that the coalition is to confirm that it is ready to change the law to remove the voting ban on more than 70,000 inmates of British jails.
The move comes after government lawyers advised that failure to comply with a 2004 ECHR ruling could cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds in litigation costs and compensation.
David Cameron was said to be “exasperated and furious” at having to accept that there was no way of keeping the UK’s 140-year-old blanket ban on sentenced prisoners voting.
There was no official confirmation of the decision to drop the ban, but a representative of the government is expected to signal the move in a statement to the court of appeal tomorrow.
I’d like to make two points: firstly that Nick Clegg had signalled that he was going to change this voluntarily, but never did; it makes the leak of Cameron’s opinion quite curious. Just two months ago the ConDems were voluntarily admitting that responsibility for complying with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) was passing to the Deputy Prime Minister, but the focus seems to have shifted and the coalition now sounds reluctant to change. Secondly I personally don’t believe in any limitation on voting rights at all – I don’t think there are any conditions under which you should lose the right to representation. Obviously the government won’t go down that path, but I hope they’ll literally just limit the ban to lifers without parole – everyone else after all will be expected to rejoin society. Sending them the message they’re not welcome to, by removing their right to representation, sort of makes rehabilitation through prison kind of meaningless, no?
Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform suggests:
“If we want prisoners to return safely to the community, feeling they have a stake in society, then the right to vote is a good means of engaging individuals with the responsibilities of citizenship,” she said.
“We understand the Government is still looking at excluding some prisoners from voting, in particular prisoners serving sentences of four years or more.
“One way the Government could enfranchise this group would be to link their plans to make long-sentenced prisoners work and pay tax to voting rights, as taxation and representation should ideally go hand in hand.”
So this is the important bit in the Deputy Prime Minister’s speech, promising a bright, new, un-authoritarian future, with:
Landmark legislation, from politicians who refused to sit back and do nothing while huge swathes of the population remained helpless against vested interests.
Who stood up for the freedom of the many, not the privilege of the few.
A spirit this government will draw on as we deliver our programme for political reform: a power revolution.
A fundamental resettlement of the relationship between state and citizen that puts you in charge.
‘Much in this new Government statement accords with the BHA’s policies we set out in our own manifestos ahead of the election and with the principles of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. We particularly welcome moves to increase freedom of speech, and a reformed House of Lords which, by being fully elected, would necessarily remove the right of Bishops to sit in our second chamber.’
‘We also look forward to making our case for the repeal and revision of unjust, restrictive and discriminatory laws, such as those which require compulsory worship on our school children – a clear violation of their freedom of conscience – and those which unfairly restrict the right to free speech and protest.’
I think Copson is generally right but there are serious problems here. Clegg’s ideas are laudable, but there are as yet no indications as to how he thinks he’ll implement them – moving children of asylum seekers from one detention centre to another (particularly one with a notorious reputation) is not a remotely adequate solution. Much of the push towards ID cards came from within the civil service itself, and there is still an entrenched authoritarian culture in government agencies which needs urgent tackling; just yesterday the new government took the same stand on control orders as its predecessor.
I don’t just expect a repeal of New Labour’s surveillance state laws, I expect a change in culture to uphold the rule of law and to abide by evidence-based policy making. That means not just accepting the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling on the National DNA Database, but abiding by rulings against denying prisoners the vote and on the legality of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act. I’m worried that now in government Clegg is going to pick and choose what works for him and what doesn’t and not challenge the vested interests, defeat of whom really would make the “most significant programme of empowerment by a British government since the great enfranchisement of the 19th Century” much more than overexcited hyperbole.
The government has for months ignored the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECHR) ruling that its policy of indefinite retention of the DNA of people not convicted of a crime was illegal. Home Secretary Alan Johnson today played further mischief with the human rights of hundreds and thousands of entirely innocent people, purely for partisan political advantage in the pre-general election ‘wash up’ period:
The Conservatives have dropped their opposition to the government’s crime and security bill, including its controversial provisions to allow the police to retain the DNA profiles of innocent people for up to six years.
Instead of blocking the bill, the shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling, made a fresh commitment that the Tories would bring in early legislation to ensure the DNA profiles of innocent people arrested for minor offences would not be retained on the national police DNA database.
“We will not seek to block this bill because the indefinite retention of innocent people’s DNA is unacceptable and has been ruled illegal,” said Grayling.He added that on taking office the Conservatives would also change the official guidance to the police, to give people the automatic right to have their DNA withdrawn from the database if have been wrongly accused of a minor crime.The decision follows a threat by the home secretary, Alan Johnson, to ditch the DNA provisions of the crime and security bill entirely, unless the Conservatives dropped their opposition to keeping profiles of innocent people on the database for up to six years.
Johnson said this morning he would pull all provisions from the amendment bill today if the Tories refuse to assent to the government’s plans. The bill is destined for this afternoon’s wash-up session to complete the government’s legislative programme ahead of the dissolution of parliament for the election.
Johnson told Sky News: “This is a basic example of how they [the Tories] talk tough on crime but act soft.”
I don’t normally use strong language on this blog, but what a cynical bastard the Home Secretary is. He’d rather play politics with one of the most important human rights issues in Britain today, and keep the country in breach of the Court’s ruling, instead of ensuring there was a system of appeal for people even to argue for their removal from the database. Yet more undemocratic game playing in the ‘wash up’ period by a government which has presided over the most out-of-touch, corrupt and inept parliament in living memory. The right to privacy and the presumption of innocence are commodities too precious to use as electioneering bargaining chips. When will this abuse end?
It’s sure to cause a storm, but two women have been barred from flying out of the UK for failing to submit to full body scanning:
Two women, one a Muslim, have become the first people to be barred from boarding a flight because they refused to go through a full-body airport scanner.
Manchester airport confirmed today that the women, who were booked to fly to Islamabad with Pakistan International Airlines, were told they could not get on the plane after they refused to be scanned for medical and religious reasons.
The women had been selected at random, said the airport.
The Muslim woman decided to forfeit her ticket and left her luggage at the airport. Her companion also left the airport saying she did not go through the scanner on medical grounds because she had an infection.
The full-body scanners were introduced at Manchester and Heathrow last month after the Christmas Day bombing attempt in Detroit. The £80,000 Rapiscan machines show a clear body outline and have been described by critics as the equivalent of “virtual strip searching”.
While American transport authorities offer passengers a choice between going through the full-body scanner or going through a metal-arch scanner and a physical search, the British government has said that a refusal to go through the body scanner would bar passengers from boarding aircraft.
I’m not sure what to say, other than isn’t this the most blatant violation of Article 2 of Protocol 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights? There has been no debate about the introduction of full body scanners at airports – what advantage do they actually provide, against the level of the real threat we face after using pre-existing technologies, scanners and security procedures? Yet again we’re all presumed to be terrorists unless we prove otherwise. Hopefully a legal challenge will be soon be launched against their introduction, and to indeed to rescue the right of privacy which this government holds in such low regard.
Sir Ian Blair, the Met Commissioner who defended his force after its murder of Jean Charles de Menezes has attacked the European Court of Human Rights for declaring Section 44 of the Terrorism Act in contravention with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR):
It is important to understand that the power granted by this legislation is entirely different to that provided for stop and search for drugs, stolen goods and weapons. For those offences, police have to have reasonable suspicion that an individual may have such items upon them. The whole point of Section 44 is that that is not required: this is a process, akin to an airport search, designed to make clear to terrorists that they are at risk, however covert their behaviour, of being searched and having their details logged at random.
Were the power to be abolished or unduly curtailed in its application – although as Lord Carlile suggests, there may be merit in a limited review following this judgment – two consequences are likely. The first is that it would be almost inevitable that police officers would, as a pragmatic solution, begin to target these kind of searches much more closely on the particular community from which the current threat is seen mainly but not exclusively to come, young Muslims, with all the increase in alienation that would engender. Inconvenience shared must be preferable. Second, and avoidably, Britain would simply be less safe.
What a complete and utter idiot. Inconvenience shared? Britain less safe? What on earth is this madman going on about? The inconvenience is far from shared:
Last year it was revealed that since May 2007 the number of searches under section 44 powers had risen by 322% for black people, 277% for Asian people, but only 185% for white people. The result was that police reportedly increased the searches in order to balance racial quotas, in one instance mounting an operation at the entrance of the British Library in London.
I myself have been on the receiving end of a search, when I was taking entirely lawful photos in an entirely lawful place. When I complained about the search the Met officer admitted they had only stopped me because I was white, and in that borough most of their stops were Asian or black. It’s also not remotely clear what benefit Section 44 has actually had. How on earth would losing arbitrary power to stop and search, which is frequently abused actually make the country less safe? By no longer stopping photographers taking photos of tall buildings? I can’t believe this blithering idiot was actually in charge of the Metropolitan Police. The ECHR accepts that this power is arbitrary, is thus used arbitrarily and as a result breaks our human right of privacy. Bizarrely as Porter says, the same government which introduced the Human Rights Act, has decided to appeal the court’s ruling.
The use of Stop & Search without grounds for suspicion has been ruled illegal by European Court of Human Rights. This ruling from Strasbourg comes as thousands of photographers are set to gather in London on Saturday 23rd January to take mass action to defend their right to photograph after a series of high profile detentions under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act.
These included the detention by seven police of an award winning architectural photographer in the City of London, the arrest of a press photographer covering a protest at City Airport and the Stop & Search of a BBC photographer outside St Paul’s Cathedral.
Our society’s visual history is under threat of extinction by anti-terrorism legislation. Section 44 of the Terrorism Act has in effect ended the confidence of the citizen to engage in the act of photography in a public place as photographers, artists and illustrators, amateur and professional are harassed by police invoking terrorism legislation to stop and search them. The act of documenting our street scenes and public life, our built environment, whether iconic or not, is now considered to be an act of hostile reconnaissance and could result in the detention of the image-maker.
The Mass Photo Gathering has been called by the campaign group I’m a Photographer, Not a Terrorist! which has over 9000 followers on Facebook.
12 Noon. 23 January.
Peter Oborne argues Cameron’s Tories, instead of repealing New Labour’s signature piece of legislation, should embrace it because it fits in with their traditions and ethos:
The rights set out in the act are taken directly from the European convention on human rights, which was signed by the UK in 1951. They were inspired by a Conservative politician, Sir Winston Churchill, and drafted under the guidance of another one, David Maxwell-Fyfe (later Lord Chancellor Kilmuir) in the face of considerable opposition from the Attlee government. The act should thus be regarded as the creation not of New Labour, but of the Conservative party.
Moreover, Conservative critics are wrong to say that the rights of the act are in general socioeconomic entitlements. In fact, they are absolutely fundamental to the British common law tradition. They include the right to life; the prohibition of torture, first enacted by the Long Parliament in 1640; rights to liberty and security of person; the right to a fair trial, which dates back to Magna Carta; the right to respect for private and family life; rights to freedom of expression and religion; and the right to freedom of association. These rights are not radical: they are deeply Conservative.
And finally, the act itself operates in a peculiarly Conservative way. It confers no new right that has not already been long recognised in common law, or to which parliament has not already long committed the UK. Its rights are not inviolable, but can be set aside at will. Where there is an inconsistency of law, it leaves it to parliament to decide how to resolve that inconsistency, and only if it chooses. A more Conservative approach could hardly be conceived.
Jack Straw may have tacked rightwards since the 1998 Act, but the fact remains that the European Convention on Human Rights is enshrined in British law. Repealing it wouldn’t end the ECHR, nor would it end Britain’s human rights obligations under the Convention, but it would mean countless people once again being unable to afford to access their rights. There is no need to repeal the act; the only point of creating a British-only document to replace it would be to restrict human rights on nationalistic grounds. We should all be terrified of the prospect.
Home Secretary Alan Johnson has previously insisted that his hands were tied, that he was legally unable to intervene in the extradition of Gary McKinnon to the US. However in his meeting this week with David Davis, Michael Meacher and Chris Huhne he changed his tune:
“[Johnson] did accept that it would be possible for him to intervene and that it wasn’t unlawful for him to intervene, but claimed the limits of his discretion meant he had to be governed by law and precedents,” said [Meacher's] spokesman. “He was concerned that precedents would be set for terrorists.”
In a blog post on Wednesday, Meacher said Johnson felt his scope for intervention was narrowed by Article 3 of the Convention on Human Rights, which limits interference in extradition to cases where the subject is at real risk of execution, torture, or inhuman or degrading treatment.
The three politicians came away from the meeting feeling that Johnson had been prepared to listen to their case, and that it “wasn’t the end of the road”, Meacher’s spokesman said.
The group of MPs is now trying to meet the US Ambassador to try to get the US government to withdraw extradition proceedings on human rights grounds. The Department of Public Prosecutions believes McKinnon doesn’t have a case to answer in the UK and that the case won’t stand up in a US court; Johnson should use his powers to step in and end this circus. So he believes the precedent would aid terrorists, but I don’t accept for a moment that a UFO-obsessed computer hacker with Asperger’s Syndrome is a legitimate sacrifice to the continuing ‘war on terror’.
Control orders appear to be on their way out, after becoming victims of their own twisted logic:
Most of the remaining control orders imposed on terror suspects are expected to be revoked following the decision by the home secretary, Alan Johnson, to free a man with Libyan and British nationality after three years under virtual house arrest.
The control order imposed on the man, known only as AF, was withdrawn last week as his lawyers prepared for a court hearing at which Johnson would have been forced to disclose the secret intelligence case against him.
The decision followed a landmark law lords ruling in June that it was unlawful to use “secret evidence” to place restrictions, including a 16-hour curfew, on terror suspects who had never been charged or tried in open court.
The unanimous ruling by nine judges, led by the senior law lord, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, opened the way for the 20 suspects on control orders to launch fresh legal challenges demanding to know the nature of the allegations against them.
This abuse of habeas corpus was one of the most disgusting pieces of legislation of the entire New Labour project. It’s a fundamental tenet of our way of life that you can’t lock anyone up without laying down a charge against them and providing evidence to back up that charge. Yet the state deemed it acceptable to control people’s movements, to inhibit their freedom, to limit their possessions and restrict their ability to communicate because they ‘couldn’t be prosecuted in court’ for fear of ‘revealing secret intelligence’. So they were ‘terror suspects’, so what? Habeas corpus has never been restricted by race, religion, gender or social class; to suggest that the law and judicial system couldn’t cope with certain individuals because of their race, religion or political affiliations was always illogical at best, deeply racist at worst. And refusing even to pass the evidence held against suspects to their lawyers was a huge violation of human rights as laid down by the Universal Declaration and the European Convention on Human Rights. Now the justification of ‘secret evidence’ has been thrown out, control orders seem likely to pass into one of the murkiest eras of modern British history. Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty said:
“Whilst some people have been driven quite mad by years of punishment without trial, suspects are allowed to wander through densely populated public spaces and many have disappeared. Those responsible for this policy should be thoroughly ashamed for creating so much injustice for so little security in return.”